How Diana changed the monar­chy

To see her in­flu­ence on the Royal Fam­ily, look at her sons

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - “Diana: Her Story” airs Aug. 31 at 10:30 p.m. on PBS.

There was a time when scenes like this at Lon­don’s Olympic Park would not have hap­pened: Prince Wil­liam, the heir to the Bri­tish throne, sprint­ing down the track with his wife, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, and his brother, Prince Harry, to the cheers of other run­ners in a re­lay race this year pro­mot­ing men­tal health.

It was so hu­man. So ac­ces­si­ble. So Diana.

Princess Diana, who died 20 years ago to­day, was a preschool teacher thrust into the glare of celebrity by her mar­riage to Prince Charles. She dragged Bri­tain’s rib­bon-cutting roy­als into the mod­ern world. She made a di­rect con­nec­tion with the public — once run­ning her own race in a flow­ing white skirt and baggy sweater — and pro­moted causes far from the main­stream at the time, like land­mine re­moval and AIDS re­search.

That link lives on through her two sons, who have adopted their mother’s more per­sonal ap­proach to monar­chy and in the process rein­vig­o­rated the in­sti­tu­tion.

“She was the first royal who re­ally took the public’s heart,” said Sandi McDon­ald, 55, from south Lon­don, out­side an ex­hibit of the late princess’ dresses at Kens­ing­ton Palace. “I think her sons are the same — the public just loves them.”

Wil­liam and Harry are the most ob­vi­ous re­minder of Diana’s im­pact. They have spo­ken openly about their own men­tal health is­sues over los­ing a par­ent while so young and break­ing down taboos just as their mother em­braced AIDS pa­tients to ease fears about the dis­ease. But the princess’ most far-reach­ing legacy is her pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the idea that celebri­ties can use their ties to mil­lions of peo­ple they’ve never met to ef­fect change.

Hav­ing been swal­lowed up by the royal ma­chine when she was barely 20, Diana found her way in life af­ter re­al­iz­ing that the public was fas­ci­nated by her ev­ery thought, says so­ci­ol­o­gist El­lis Cash­more. Diana was able to ma­nip­u­late that in­ter­est to her own ad­van­tage, pro­mot­ing causes such as land­mine clear­ance and telling her side of the story when her mar­riage col­lapsed amid Prince Charles’ re­la­tion­ship with Camilla Parker Bowles, who later be­came his sec­ond wife.

To­day’s celebri­ties in ev­ery field have adopted that model — cre­ated when news­pa­pers and the evening news were the pri­mary sources of in­for­ma­tion — and pumped it full of steroids in the world of Face­book and In­sta­gram.

“You can sort of trace the molec­u­lar chain or ge­netic chain be­tween Diana and Kim Kar­dashian,” says Cash­more, the au­thor of “El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor: A Pri­vate Life for Public Con­sump­tion.” “Imag­ine if Twit­ter or Face­book had been around in her (Diana’s) day!”

While ev­ery wannabe celebrity to­day posts their se­crets on so­cial me­dia, in the 1990s it was unimag­in­able that a royal would share per­sonal hopes and fears with the world. But trapped in a love­less mar­riage, Diana chose to take her mes­sage to the peo­ple who loved her.

She covertly co-op­er­ated with bi­og­ra­pher An­drew Mor­ton to get her story out, us­ing an in­ter­me­di­ary who recorded tapes of her an­swers to the au­thor’s ques­tions so she could deny ever hav­ing spo­ken with Mor­ton.

“This was a quite re­mark­able thing that she was do­ing,” Mor­ton told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Here she was, talk­ing about the most in­ti­mate de­tails of her life — about this woman called Camilla, about her eat­ing dis­or­ders, about her half-hearted sui­cide at­tempts — to me who was a rel­a­tive stranger . ... She was talk­ing about things which no princess had ever spo­ken about be­fore.”

The gam­ble paid off. Diana’s story was told, and the public loved her all the more. Her funeral fea­tured an un­prece­dented out­pour­ing of grief and emo­tion, with tens of thou­sands lin­ing the streets and moun­tains of flow­ers piled out­side Kens­ing­ton Palace. It was a trans­for­ma­tive event for both the Royal Fam­ily and for Bri­tain, Mor­ton said.

“No longer were we seen as the stiff-up­per-lip, do-not-touch na­tion,” Mor­ton said. “We were seen as a trem­bling lower lip (na­tion), not afraid to emote, to shed our tears in public.”

Af­ter Diana’s death, the roy­als also learned they had to change.

The Queen re­turned to the cap­i­tal from va­ca­tion in Scot­land and gave a speech from Buck­ing­ham Palace that qui­eted days of head­lines al­leg­ing she had been in­dif­fer­ent to Diana’s death. A more ac­ces­si­ble monar­chy has fol­lowed.

Last year, as Bri­tain cel­e­brated the Queen’s 90th birth­day for months, the Queen joked at a street party out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace that while she ap­pre­ci­ated the cards and mes­sages “how I will feel if peo­ple are still sing­ing ‘Happy Birth­day’ to me in De­cem­ber re­mains to be seen!”

As Wil­liam and Harry grew up, they in­her­ited Diana’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate. To the de­light of men­tal health char­i­ties, they and the Duchess of Cam­bridge have fronted a cam­paign to per­suade peo­ple to open up about men­tal health strug­gles. One char­ity, Mind, said the day af­ter Harry spoke about his strug­gles af­ter his mother’s death, their public in­quiry line re­ceived a 38 per cent in­crease in calls.

“It shows how far we have come in chang­ing public at­ti­tudes to men­tal health, that some­one so high-pro­file can open up about some­thing so dif­fi­cult and per­sonal,” said Paul Farmer, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mind.

The young roy­als have also brought other lu­mi­nar­ies into the con­ver­sa­tion. In one video, Prince Wil­liam spoke with pop star Lady Gaga, who told of her strug­gles with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“(Diana) knew, even from an early age, that she wanted to groom them more in the im­age of mod­ern princes, that they would be able to reach out to peo­ple,” said Mor­ton.

“She did not want a ... do-not-touch sign over the fu­ture of her chil­dren.”

Diana also changed the public’s ex­pec­ta­tions of na­tional fig­ures, Cash­more ar­gues, say­ing Britons were no longer sat­is­fied with a dis­tant monar­chy. Her sons’ com­mon touch is one rea­son for the of­ten de­nied spec­u­la­tion that Wil­liam will take the throne af­ter the Queen’s death, skip­ping his less pop­u­lar fa­ther.

Quite sim­ply, Diana changed the Royal Fam­ily, said Jenny Glossop, a fan from Worces­ter­shire who vis­ited the Kens­ing­ton Palace dress ex­hibit.

“The roy­als were al­ways for­mal and stuffy and didn’t have a con­nec­tion with the public. Diana came along, joined the fam­ily and changed the roy­als for­ever, be­cause af­ter that even the queen soft­ened, be­came more ap­proach­able,” Glossop said.

“Her boys have grown to be Diana’s boys. Ev­ery­thing we loved about her car­ries on in the fam­ily.”

In Jan­uary 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, vis­ited chil­dren who had lost limbs due to land­mines.

Cather­ine, Duchess of Cam­bridge, Prince Wil­liam and Prince Harry race dur­ing a Marathon Train­ing Day in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

Wil­liam, Cather­ine and Harry wear head­bands for a cam­paign to en­cour­age peo­ple to talk openly about men­tal health is­sues.

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